Sony RX1: Executive Summary, Lazy Readers' Digest, Top Tips
Over the last few weeks and in the first three parts of this review, I have looked at (I hope) most aspects of the excellent Sony RX1 that are of interest to serious (RAW) still image makers. Now it's time to bring all these observations together in a much shorter form, as a quick read for the busy and as a quick reference guide for those who have read the whole shebang already. This exercise also helps me form my final conclusion on the camera: how good is it, really? And is it worth the money?
Before I start, here are links to parts 1,2 & 3 with a brief description of what is covered in each: today's post, as a summary, will carry many assertions which are explored and demonstrated in much more detail in those previous posts and I hope they will continue to provide 'deep reference' for the curious.
Part One: File quality; ergonomics; processing options; comparison to peer group cameras; ISO series; Bokeh series; colour fringing; lens distortion; focus shift; flare.
Part Two: Colour shifts; Camera colour calibration; near, far and close Aperture Series; Lens conclusion; Focus behaviour & performance; Exposure and ETTR behaviour.
Part Three: The EVF.
Right. Lazy readers start here:
The Camera and its files
The Final Word
When you buy the RX1, you buy both a camera and a lens. Obvious, but worth thinking about. On the one hand, the two have been built to match each other so well that together, they offer an absolutely peerless combination of light weight, small size, IQ and lens performance. I want to dwell on this for a moment: DXO Mark have just published a review of the Nikkor 28mm F1.8G lens and they state quite categorically that for Nikon Full Frame (and this means for the D800/E, currently the best camera there is overall), this is the best wide angle lens you can buy, optically. I own the lens (and a D800E) and I can honestly say, with no hint of an optical bench to tie me down, that the RX1 lens is better. It has very little if any field distortion, and that, combined with its other qualities, means that sharp-across-the-frame shots, very hard to get from a D800 with nearly any wide angled lens, fall out of the RX1 with no effort whatsoever. It is an absolute jackpot of IQ.
In fact I also own the fabled current generation Leica 35mm F1.4 Summilux and whilst that lens may have slightly more 'beautiful' (in the eye of this beholder) rendering, it is IMHO technically not as good as the Zeiss on the RX1 because it has quite strong field curvature and that means that it can be tricky to use, like the above-mentioned Nikkor.
Now let us consider today's release of the DXO Mark score for the RX1 sensor: it scores fourth best of every camera they have ever tested, and that includes treating the D800 and D800E as different cameras. In other words, it is third best, a mere one point behind the D600 (both cameras share slightly different implementations of the same sensor).
BUT - and this is a 'big but' - users of the D800 and D600 are, as described above, very hard-pushed to find a wide angled lens that performs to the abilities of the sensor. In other words, if you are primarily interested in the 35mm focal length, there may be no way, at any cost or size, of getting better full frame results than you will from the RX1. Sure, it has some (pretty limited IMHO) ergonomic 'issues' - at least some of which can be fixed with a firmware update. But so do all cameras.
Now I am not surprised to see these two new DXO results: for the past few weeks, I have been using the RX1 a lot not because it is small, light, new or because I am reviewing it, but because it is the best tool for certain jobs, bar none.
The downside of all this is that the lens is fixed to the camera. You have no choice of other focal lengths without carrying another camera and that on its own is reason enough for many shooters to never go near an RX1. And when the camera eventually goes obsolete or looks long in the tooth, the lens dies with it. This seems like a waste. But if this lens really is worth at least 2\3rds the cost of the RX1 (and a Leica 35mm Summilux costs a great deal more than an RX1) then a very strong argument can be made for the camera.
So it is finally, after weeks of shooting the RX1, time for me to p*ss or get off the pot.
But should you buy one?
Hmmm. There are a lot of different 'yous' out there, obviously, but I think the answer might be 'no'.
A D600 is cheaper and more flexible and at some point in the not-too-distant future, better lenses will come along. For example, the Sigma 35mm F1.4 that I hope to review soon might be a match for the lens on the RX1 and it is cheap. A D800 is also cheaper and more flexible and has much higher resolution and again, the Sigma could hold the key for those keen on the 35mm focal length.
In pounds Sterling:
RX1 costs £2,599
D600 + Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM costs £2,250
D800 + Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM costs £2,699
So my final answer, to all true, RAW shooting, video-ignoring lovers of amazing IQ, is:
if you want the best possible current combination of size, weight, quietness and IQ and are not too price-sensitive, get an RX1, if you can live with its (all forgivable) weaknesses.
If you are prepared to carry something somewhat larger, heavier and noisier but a LOT more flexible and extensible, just wait a few days until the first reviews of the new Sigma in Nikon fit arrive and if it is as good as people are saying, get one of those and a D600 or D800. if the Sigma is not as good (close ballpark) as the RX1's Zeiss lens, you might choose to wait until Zeiss announce one of their new-generation super high grade lenses in this focal length, but it won't be cheap.
I love my RX1, pretty deeply: but if the new Sigma lens is great, the RX1 is going. At heart I like my systems to be separable and if I want small and lightweight, I am willing to compromise more on IQ and go with an RX100.
Well Tim, I've had my RX1R for a few days and it's everything I'd hoped for! I'm a Phase P65+ user, a Leica M9 user and a Nikon D800e user and I can say without a doubt that pixel for pixel at base iso, this RX1R is as good as all these...actually better than my M9. Sony, in my opinion, has hit a home run. Is it perfect?...no, but NO camera is ever perfect...There are always trade offs. Thanks again for your helpful review.
Eleanor, all I can say is, prepare to be amazed. I hear the RX1R is even better (as you might expect without the AA filter) but the RX-1 is plenty good enough to keep a Phase user verrrry happy, as long as you respect the pixel count when choosing print sizes. But on a per pixel basis - wow!
Tim many thanks for your work on this excellent review. I have one question (I should receive my RX1R this week). Currently I have a Phase P65plus, Leica M9 and Nikon D800e tho currently I'm mostly using the D800e. I really want a really great quality SMALL camera for many reasons. What I would like to know is how the RX1 series compared to the incredible tonal smoothness of your former Phase 180 at base iso? I love the smooth creamy look of my medium format files but I'm tired of the weight and bulk in a camera this size. Just wondering and thanks! Eleanor
Robert, I don't have the camera with me but from memory the system works as follows.
In Auto ISO, Aperture Priority mode it will use 1/80th as its default slowest shutter speed and you cannot change that value. In other words, if you have chosen f5.6 and the light drops, the camera will prioritise keeping the shutter at 1/80th and will raise ISO rather than reduce shutter speed, until it runs out of ISO and then it will reduce shutter speed. In some other cameras you can set you minimum desired shutter speed but not on the RX-1.
In Shutter priority, Auto ISO it simply goes with what you have set as the shutter speed and works out combinations of ISO and Aperture so as to shoot at the lowest available ISO.
In any mode, it can't shoot the fastest shutter speeds at the widest apertures: leaf shutters just can't move all those blades that far, that fast, so for example at 1/4000th you can't use an aperture wider than F5.6 and as shutter speed drops, maximum possible apertures increase.
So there a re a number of complex factors that determine combinations of shutter, ISO and aperture according to shooting mode, ISO mode and the dynamics of the leaf shutter. But you can indeed set shutter speeds manually, within the above constraints.
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